Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach muscles do not work properly. As a result, food empties from the stomach very slowly, or not at all.

Children with this disorder may feel full all the time, be very nauseous, have pain or vomit undigested food left in the stomach.

What Causes Gastroparesis?

Experts do not know exactly what causes gastroparesis. In many cases, it starts after an infection.

Other risk factors include:
  • Surgery, particularly fundoplication, a procedure that controls reflux in patients with GERD
  • Medications, such as anticholinergics and certain chemotherapy drugs
  • Congenital defects that affect the stomach or abdomen, such as gastroschisis, which causes a baby’s intestines to stick out of the body
  • Other underlying conditions, including diabetes mellitus, endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, neurologic disorders, or metabolic disorders such as Riley Day syndrome

Symptoms of Gastroparesis

The most common symptom of gastroparesis is vomiting. Children with this condition often get sick late in the day after a meal, and commonly vomit foods eaten several hours earlier.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Upper abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating

How is Gastroparesis Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects your child may have gastroparesis, he or she may order one or more of the following tests:

  • Gastric emptying scintigraphy: This nuclear medicine test uses an external scanner that tracks radioactive materials (eaten by the patient in food) as they move through the digestive system. A four-hour emptying test has become the gold standard for diagnosis and is available at Boston Children’s Hospital. Experts are developing even newer tests for the evaluation of gastric emptying.
  • Antroduodenal manometry: This test places a small, flexible tube (catheter) through the nose into the stomach and small intestine to measure pressure. If your child has a gastrostomy (feeding tube), your physician may insert the catheter through that instead. Read more about antroduodenal manometry at Boston Children’s.
  • Wireless motility capsules: The patient swallows a capsule containing a tiny device that measures pH, temperature and pressure levels as it travels through the digestive system. The capsule transmits real-time data to a monitor worn by the patient.

Boston Children’s is known worldwide for our advanced GI motility testing services. In fact, many of our GI motility doctors are pioneers in the development of the newest, non-invasive tests. 

Gastroparesis Treatment at Boston Children's Hospital

There is no cure for gastroparesis. In some cases, it gets better after a few months to years, and in others it may be a life-long condition. But with proper management and diet, specialists can help you and your child control the symptoms.

At our Motility and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Center, we work with patients and their families to develop a personalized treatment plans that draw from the latest therapies and research available today.

The first step is to treat any underlying conditions and stop any medications that may contribute to your child’s gastroparesis. Other treatment options may include:

  • Special diet: Your child’s physician and dietician will develop a customized diet plan involving smaller portions and easily digestible foods. You will learn how to choose the best foods, plan meal times and balance eating with exercise.
  • Medications to control nausea: Drugs called antiemetics may decrease nausea and vomiting.
  • Medications to improve stomach emptying: Prokinetic drugs may improve stomach function in some children. Some medications like cisparide, domperidone or botulinum toxin injection to the pylorus are only available through specialized programs like ours. These medications should be prescribed and managed by physicians with pediatric motility expertise, such as the specialists at our Motility and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Center.
  • Pain control: We provide a multidisciplinary team to control pain and improve quality of life.
  • Gastric electrical stimulation: This treatment involves surgically implanting a neurostimulator in your child’s stomach. The device delivers mild electrical pulses to the stomach muscle to control nausea and vomiting.
  • Surgical jejunostomy: In some children, gastroparesis is so severe that they cannot keep down any food or liquids. In these cases, a surgeon may need to place a jejunostomy (feeding tube) directly into your child’s intestines so they get proper nutrition.

Learn more about our GI motility treatments and approach to care at Boston Children’s

Make An Appointment

For an appointment, more information or to obtain a second opinion for your child, please contact the Motility and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Center at 617-355-6055 or request an appointment online.